Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is celebrating 20 years of operations in Latin America. The company landed in the southernmost corner of the region, launching in Uruguay back in 2002. Today, it has offices in 16 Latin American cities throughout nine countries –Argentina, Mexico, Brasil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, Colombia, Uruguay and Chile– with a local headcount that hovers 25,000, almost 5% of its global workforce.
The Latin American experiment has been a success for the Indian tech giant. The region stands out as the best performer amongst emerging markets, with an year-over-year growth of approximately 20% over the past two quarters. Company executives expect that growth to continue in the coming years, a prediction that might turn out true, given the increasing demand for tech services in Latin and North America.
FLASHBACK: Over a decade ago, NSAM’s Kirk Laughlin interviewed Gabriel Rozman of TCS about the company’s hopes for their LATAM venture. Read the article here.
Although the numbers point to a comfortably strong position, the story behind them is anything but. NSAM had the opportunity to speak with three of TCS’s top executives in the region: Henry Manzano (President of the company’s LATAM region), Rajeev Gupta (Head of Nearshore Operations in LATAM and Mexico Country Head) and Ximena Jofre (LATAM Head of HR).
All three spoke candidly about TCS’s 20-year journey in Latin America, keeping an optimistic outlook for the future. Nevertheless, they also commented openly about the difficulties faced by the company’s navigating of the region’s cultural landscape and the work needed to crystallize local diversity into a single culture under the company’s seal.
Bright words, such as “promising”, “amazing” and “incredible”, were mixed with more fretful ones, like “challenging” and “difficult”.
How does an Indian company manage to remain for two decades in a region as diverse, complex and different from its place of origin as Latin America? For TCS, the answer is as multifaceted and complex as Latin America itself. Yet, one factor stands out as the cornerstone of their regional strategy: a careful exercise of cultural mixing and matching.
TCS prides itself in its model of corporate culture. Instead of trying to impose an “Indian-style” of management and business, the company has found a formula that mixes local cultures with its own, embedding the combination into the broader global business culture in which it operates.
It hasn’t been easy, though. When asked about the company’s biggest challenges over its 20-year incursion into Latin America, all three executives pointed to the consolidation of a single culture that is experienced uniformly by customers.
“That has been the biggest challenge: giving a single face of TCS to the customer, irrespective of which location our associates are working from,” said Rajeev Gupta.
“That was the most challenging part, which took a couple years to solve, but we were finally able to assemble a team that provided us with the building blocks of what we are today,” Henry Manzano told NSAM. “We are a mix of Latin Americans, each one offering his/her best, and a group from India that came to the region to provide support in areas where we lacked knowledge and expertise. Beyond being an Indian company, TCS has its own personality.”
Although labeled as a block in most corporate spreadsheets, Latin America is a region that spans half of the American continent and contains 21 countries, each with several cultures and even languages of its own. Trying to gather even a fraction of them –for TCS’ case, nine– under the banner of a single company is no easy feat.
Yet, the company claims to have achieved the feat through careful hiring practices and the standardization of what company executives described as the workers’ “life cycle” within TCS.
“We search for the best human capital in each country, and that has been the cornerstone of our growth,” explained Manzano. “We didn’t limit ourselves to hiring people who had a good understanding of their respective country’s culture; we trained them, sent them to India to get to know the company, to understand how TCS operates.”
Onboarding processes are uniform irrespective of the region. The same goes for the use of insider terminology and the availability of learning tools for upskilling. The process is as if franchising was applied to corporate culture.
“Even if there are two TCSers, one in Mexico, one in India, who have never spoken to each other, they work on the same project, speak the same language. That’s where this uniformity to the customers comes; for them, its only one TCS,” Gupta commented.
Another important aspect of the cultural mix is the people themselves. When TCS set up shop in Latin America, most of its headcount –and leadership, particularly– were sourced from India. Through the years, the company has strived to build local expertise and increase the volume of regional workers from top to bottom. TCS claims that, today, around 80% of company executives in Latin America come from the region, with 96% of its total headcount being confirmed by locals.
“We have evolved. Now we have more local leaders. And that’s something that we find appealing, because it has yielded positive results,” commented Ximena Jofre, who’s in charge of TCS’s HR and who has one of the longest tenures in the company.
Teach Them to Teach Themselves
TCS is one hungry machine. The company has managed to grow at the pace of double digits in Latin America. Like any organism, though, as it grew, so did its nutritional needs, which turned into a strong hunger for talent.
“We had to create this machine, this inner capacity and structure and organization of ours, in order to respond to market demand,” explained Jofre. “We were able to create those structures as we went, through a model of local staffing, through stronger networking with universities […] plus an offshoring model that allowed for 24/7 operations”
All three executives made special emphasis on the relevance of education –of prospects and employees who are already on board– for the success of TCS’s regional operations and cultural project.
Tech talent sourcing has been a major challenge faced by the company since its arrival, said Rajeev Gupta. The numbers are there, he explained, but graduates are not always industry ready. That’s why TCS has embedded itself in the regional school system, knitting a network of alliances with universities and launching development centers to promote IT and engineering careers.
But learning doesn’t end once workers have crossed the door. TCS brought to the region a culture of continual upgrades and also of self-training. All employees have access to a learning platform to obtain the skills required by the market to –as Jofre put it– “keep yourself relevant”.
“We have to change, culturally,” commented Jofre, pointing to what she characterized as a culture of teachers and learning halls in Latin America. “Because there’s a shortage of talent out there”
Schooling isn’t limited to the region. As part of the strategy of cultural mixing-and-matching, TCS usually sends executives abroad. Exposing them to a different culture –Latin American or otherwise– gives them a better understanding of the company’s culture and the global business ecosystem in which it operates.
“Once somebody works in a country different from theirs and then go back to their original country, they take the whole global experience with them and then replicate and scale it in their home country,” Gupta explained.
Few companies can say they were able to remain active in Latin America for 20 years. Nevertheless, TCS’s top brass expect to remain in the territory for much longer; perhaps another twenty years.
The company has the advantage of momentum. In spite of a challenging economic landscape, demand for tech services keeps growing. Technavio expects the size of the Latin American IT services to reach US$33.68 billion by 2025, with a CAGR of 6.61%. Regional tech hirings are also booming, a sign of the market’s strength despite the challenges. TCS provides services to regional clients and also to US and Canadian customers as a nearshore partner. Manzano assured that both segments are expanding at a similar pace.
“The process [of tech transformation] is only beginning. It will continue, and our clients are adopting it aggressively,” said Manzano. “I’m hopeful and quite wishful about what might follow. We’re only getting started. The best has yet to come.”